They Will Make it Accessible Just as Soon as They HAVE to … Let’s Help Them Speed It Up
If you want a facility to be made accessible by the City of San Marcos, California, don’t hold your breath. San Marcos has a population of only 84 thousand located west of Escondido and east of Vista on highway 78 in North San Diego County. In 1990 San Marcos was put on the map when California State University, San Marcos opened. If you do a Google search for “San Marcos” the first 5 results are for San Marcos, Texas.
San Marcos is a poorly planned city with a hodgepodge of what was rural development that is now surrounded by new commercial and housing tracks. The city has a conservative reputation of not using its own money for any improvements; they wait for someone that wants to develop their property and then force that developer to make the improvements. This is also true for disability access.
One gentleman with a disability (now a client of the Center for Disability Access) who we will call “Mr. S” lived in San Marcos did not realize the extent of the problem until his van gave up the ghost. He was left for many months with travelling by motorized wheelchair. He discovered, to his great frustration, that there simply was no accessible path of travel to get to the many San Marcos businesses he needed to visit. There were several different routes he could take from his home to these businesses located in the city center, but all of these routes had barriers that prevented his safe access. If he traveled up Rancho Santa Fe Blvd he would first encounter dirt sidewalks in front of undeveloped lots. No sidewalks were installed where the land wasn’t developed because the City of San Marcos would have had to pay for those improvements itself and did not want to do that. The City figured that, eventually, someone would want to develop these lots and apply for a permit. Then, and only then, would the City pass the buck and require the developer to make the sidewalk accessible. The City of San Marcos was, apparently, quite content with living with dirt sidewalks on the four lane major artery through its city for decades before it would use its own money to build a sidewalk. And it was not just a problem with dirt sidewalks that turned to mud when it rained. Even on the paved sidewalk areas, there was a lack of curb cuts at intersections, and utility poles in the middle of sidewalks, forcing wheelchair users to travel into a very fast and busy street.
The path of travel on Grand Avenue was equally treacherous. Grand Avenue runs parallel to the 78 Freeway with a variety of different businesses and developments that enjoy freeway signage. This path of travel suffered from the same infirmities. Entire sections of the sidewalk are either dirt or just non-existent. So, for example, Mr. S wanted to simply go to the Ace Hardware store but could not safely travel down this critical San Marcos avenue without having to spend about 50% of his route in the street.
San Marcos had a problem here. The business owners had already developed their sites, so the City did not have the permit-application leverage to force them to provide for disability access. Nonetheless, San Marcos still did not have a plan for complying with the law and providing proper access. During the course of the lawsuit brought by Mr. S, the City tried to wiggle out of its obligations by pointing out that the Ace Hardware had gone out of business, leaving Mr. S with no reason to travel down Grand Avenue. Please.
In a separate case brought by a wholly different pair of clients, the City of San Marcos had problems with a new development they neglected to properly supervise. On the other side of town from the case by Mr. S, near Walnut Grove Park, there are some beautiful parts of the City where nice housing developments abut egg farms and horse ranches, the City was requiring developers to pay for the construction of a beautiful bike, pedestrian and equestrian trail that consisted of a paved path running side-by-side with a soft dirt equestrian path. But there was a major break in the trail because where the housing development stopped, so did the trails. Again, if the City could not force a developer to provide for the accessible path of travel, there would be no accessible path of travel. Although the City intends the trail to continue when the vacant land gets developed, it saw no need to put curb cuts for persons with disabilities to get on the trail. It did not matter that there are no current plans to develop the vacant land and it could be decades before it is developed. According to the City: when it happens, it happens.
On this same bicycle, pedestrian and equestrian trail, someone forgot to deal with access across a huge drainable ditch.
It was never fully ascertained during the case whether the City forgot to include a culvert or bridge in the plans or if the contractor neglected to do the work. But the City of San Marcos tried to argue that it did not need to make the trail accessible because persons in wheelchairs could just swing out on to Sycamore Avenue…a street with no sidewalk.
We suspect the City only made these arguments in writing because they would not have been able to look us in the eye if they tried to make these arguments in person. Nonetheless, the City of San Marcos litigated for more than 17 months before finally agreeing to fix most of these problems and then only with trial looming. Unfortunately, it seems to us that the City of San Marcos has not experienced a change of attitude towards disability access. It still wants to wait until they can force someone else to make the changes even if that means persons with disabilities could have to suffer for extended lengths of time without proper access. This is even more disgraceful when one considers how easy many of the necessary alterations are and how dangerous the conditions are in the areas where there is no access.
If you have any problems with access in the City of San Marcos, please contact the Center for Disability Access.